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Overview.  The Emerald Bay area has something for everyone.  Here, we present two day hikes that are easily accessible from Highway 89 where you can visit a group of beautiful alpine lakes and bag a couple of peaks with panoramic views out over Lake Tahoe.


Getting There, Topo Map, Red Tape, etc.

Both of the day hikes presented here leave from the Emerald Bay area.  Emerald Bay is the most prominent and the most beautiful feature along the SW shore of Lake Tahoe.  The bay is located alongside Highway 89, approximately 7.5 miles north of the "Y" in South Lake Tahoe.  Note:  the trailhead area for both of these hikes gets extremely crowded on summer weekends.  Crowds will thin out as you get away from the roadway, but don't expect to be alone on these trails.

 

Hike #1 leaves from the Bayview Trailhead, which (when driving from South Lake Tahoe) is on the left side of Highway 89, just as the road makes its initial right-hand bend around Emerald Bay.  Hike #2 leaves from the Eagle Falls Trailhead, which is 3/4 mile north of Bayview, on the same side of the road.  There is limited parking here, and cars frequently spill out onto the highway.  More parking is available about a half mile north.  The USFS has recently imposed a day use parking fee of $3 (free with your overnight wilderness permit).

 

Click here for an annotated topo map of both hikes >>>.

 

A self-serve kiosk for wilderness day use permits is available at the trailhead.  Overnight permits are subject to a strict quota.

 

   

Hike #1 -- Granite Lake & Maggies Peaks:

One-way Mileage from Trailhead:

0.9 miles to Granite Lake

1.2 miles to Maggies Saddle

1.5 miles to North Maggies Peak

1.6 miles to South Maggies Peak

 

Elevation:

Trailhead:  6,800'

Granite Lake:  7,650'

Summit of South Maggies Peak:  8,699''

 

Hiking time:  Easy half day

 

The Route:   From the parking area, continue through the Bayview campground.  At the trailhead permit kiosk, one trail heads left to Cascade Falls and one heads to the right to Granite Lake.  Follow the right hand trail for the first 0.5 miles as it climbs steeply through trees up the ridge towards the Desolation Wilderness boundary.  After several switchbacks along this stretch, the trail turns abruptly to the right and emerges from the trees.  Just a short distance from here, you come upon a group of boulders that are perched atop an overlook with tremendous views out over Emerald Bay and Lake Tahoe.   Stop to admire the panorama, then continue SW up the trail for another 0.7 miles until you reach Granite Lake.

 

It is an easy hike of less than 1,000 vertical feet to Granite Lake.  With good reason, many people don't go any farther than the lake:  it is a lovely spot, tucked into a shady bowl beneath the twin summits of Maggies Peaks.   The only downside of Granite Lake is that there isn't much of a view once you hike back in towards the lake.  However, if you want to get one of the finest views in Tahoe, aim for the summit of South Maggies Peak, about 1,000' feet above you.  To get there, continue up the trail towards the saddle between the two Maggies Peaks.  Just over the saddle, head due south off-trail, climbing upwards until you reach the summit.   At the top, enjoy one of the finest views in the entire Tahoe region.

 

The climb up to North Maggies Peak from the saddle is recommended only for those who are comfortable on Class 3 terrain and have a desire to bag both peaks.  The views are similar to those from South Maggies, except that North Maggies does offer a nice view over Eagle Falls Canyon that isn't visible from the other summit.

Hike #2 -- Eagle, Velma & Fontanillis Lakes:

One-Way Mileage from Trailhead:

0.8 miles to Eagle Lake

2.9 miles to Azure-Velma Saddle

3.8 miles to Middle Velma Lake

4.7 miles to Fontanillis Lake

 

Elevation:

Trailhead:  6,600'

Azure-Velma Saddle:  8,250'

Middle Velma Lake:  7,900'

Fontanillis Lake:  8,290'

 

Hiking time:  Most of a day

The Route:   The hike as described here is much longer than Hike #1.  However, you don't have to follow the entire route.  Go as far as you want before turning around -- there's plenty of good stuff to see along the way and fairly close to the trailhead (including lovely Eagle Lake).  This hike can also be combined with Hike #1 in a nice full day loop hike.

At the Eagle Falls trailhead, obtain your wilderness permit.  Head SW up the trail, climbing gently at first, then ascending a steep set of stone steps.  Climb the stairs to the falls.  Cross the high bridge and enjoy the vista back down the canyon to Emerald Bay.  If you want to continue on to Eagle Lake, follow the trail gradually uphill another half mile or so until you reach a fork.  The right hand trail leads to the lake, set spectacularly in a glacial cirque below North Maggies Peak.  To continue on to the Velma Lakes, backtrack to the trail fork.  Turn right onto the main trail.  Because the head of the canyon is blocked by cliffs, the trail climbs very steeply up the south wall of the canyon, then flattens for a (too short) stretch, then switchbacks up a spur ridge that drops down to the SW from South Maggies Peak.  Contour SSW from here, following the trail towards a low saddle.  Climb steeply up to the saddle, which leads to the Azure Lake drainage to the south.

At the saddle, a second trail joins in from the left.  This is the Bayview Trail, which is described above under Hike #1.  On the return trip, you can take the Bayview Trail back to Highway 89 to make a loop hike.  To continue on to Velma and Fontanillis Lakes, the trail descends slightly for about 0.4 miles, then climbs again gradually for about 0.3 miles to another saddle -- this one between Velma and Azure Lakes.  At this saddle, you reach yet another trail junction.  The left fork heads to Fontanillis Lake and Dicks Lake.  The right hand fork drops down to the Velma Lakes.  The trail first passes Upper Velma, then continues on to more popular and larger Middle Velma Lake (Lower Velma is accessible by hiking cross-country to the NE from Middle Velma).

Only the strongest hikers will have the stamina to continue on to Fontanillis Lake as a day-trip.  If you want to accept this challenge, look for the marked trail from near the SW shore of Middle Velma Lake.  This trail switchbacks up for about 0.8 miles to reach the lake.  Once here, you are now a long way from home.  The Eagle Falls trail is an easier hike back than the Bayview Trail (although the latter trail permits a quick detour to the summit of South Maggies Peak).


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